Student Email and Privacy Issues

The York University Information Technology (UIT) office is considering moving student emails to a commercial service such as Google Mail or Microsoft.

Such moves at other Canadian Universities have raised concerns that outsourcing student emails may subject faculty-student correspondence to non-Canadian laws and as a result infringe on their civil liberties. Google's location in the US and the US Patriot Act are frequently cited, although there are also concerns about the commercial use of personal details (see, for example, one CBC story here). York UIT's statement on privacy can be found here.

Jim Turk of CAUT suggests in the abstract to his 5 February talk to YUFA's GMM:

Google's "too good to be true" offer should be refused. The dangers for faculty are many and serious. The agreement the University would have to sign to transfer services to Google (1) will subject to US anti-terrorism law all email, records and documents sent or received by faculty, (2) will assert the University has ownership of the intellectual property of all the transmitted material, (3) will hold Google harmless for any corruption or loss of data and records, (4) will allow Google to terminate the service at any time, and (5) will leave the only recourse for a dissatisfied faculty member wanting to take legal action to pursue it in a specified American county's courts under that state's laws.

For an overview of the terms and conditions of such contracts, see: Simon Bradshaw, Christopher Millard, Ian Walden, Contracts for Clouds: Comparison and Analysis of the Terms and Conditions of Cloud Computing Services, Queen Mary School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 63/2010

The issue elsewhere in Canadian Higher Education

The Lakehead University Faculty Association lost a legal arbitration against its employer with regard to moving to Goggle email in 2009.

The Association of Academic Staff at the University of Alberta withdrew its grievance against Google email for staff and students in early 2012 based on additional privacy assurances obtained from its employer.

Ryerson University had a symposium in February 2011 to debate the potential move to Google email services and has since adopted them.

Related issues: